Steve Coll named dean of Columbia Journalism School

Steve Coll. (npr.org)
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Steve Coll, the Pulitzer-decorated New Yorker staff writer, has been named dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

He replaces Nick Lemann, a fellow New Yorker writer who announced in October he would be stepping down from the post after more than a decade.

“Steve Coll is one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation,” said Columbia University president Lee C. Bollinger in a statement. “Sweeping changes in digital technology and the global marketplace have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the news media that demand our constant reflection on the mission and substance of a modern journalism education. ... Steve’s breadth of experience as a reporter, editor, author and executive make him ideally suited to lead the School in the years ahead.”

Coll will begin his new job on July 1 following the completion of the current academic year, for which Lemann had said he'd remain on board.

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A New Yorker spokeswoman confirmed that Coll will retain his staff writer title but couldn't comment on how the Columbia gig might effect his contributions to the magazine.

"You will continue to see him in the magazine, but it's too early to comment on how his new position will impact the number of pieces he writes for us," she said.

Coll joins the Columbia Journalism School at a time when it's revamping its curriculum and updating its program offerings to keep apace with the news industry's digital transition.

"The digital revolution has been hugely disruptive within the profession," said Coll in a statement. "The Journalism School has a chance across the next decade to extend its leadership as an institution with worldwide influence, a locus of deep and serious education, a source of experimentation, and a place where great journalism is not just taught but practiced.”

But Coll's digital bona fides are not so readily apparent.

His reputation first and foremost is one of an establishment-media stalwart who produces brilliant pieces of long-form journalism on matters of international import. On the other hand, as one New York editor pointed out, he does not appear to be on Twitter.

You can read the full announcement from Columbia, as well as Bollinger's note to Journalism School alumni, below:

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger today announced his appointment of two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Coll as the new Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, effective July 1, 2013. Coll replaces Nicholas Lemann, who has served as dean since 2003.

“Steve Coll is one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation,” said Bollinger. “Sweeping changes in digital technology and the global marketplace have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the news media that demand our constant reflection on the mission and substance of a modern journalism education. Our Journalism School is thriving today because of its innovative response to these developments, and Steve’s breadth of experience as a reporter, editor, author and executive make him ideally suited to lead the School in the years ahead.”

Coll most recently served for five years as president of The New America Foundation, a leading public policy institute in Washington that has supported a wide range of thinking on the public issues facing our society, including the changes in journalism. In 1985, Coll joined the Washington Post as a general assignment feature writer for the Style section and over the next twenty years served as a foreign correspondent and senior editor, culminating in his tenure as managing editor from 1998 through 2004. He received his first Pulitzer in 1990 for explanatory journalism with a series of articles on the Securities and Exchange Commission which he reported with David Vise. The author of seven books, Coll won his second Pulitzer Prize in 2005, in general non-fiction, for Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Ghost Wars also won the Council of Foreign Relations’ Arthur Ross award, the Overseas Press Club Award, and the Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book published about international affairs. His latest book, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, was published this past November, and won the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs prize for best business book of the year.

“Columbia’s leaders and faculty have built an enormously successful school that affirms journalism’s most serious and enduring values – depth, originality, ethics, and the role journalists can play in a democracy by promoting transparency, giving voice to the powerless and holding the powerful to account,” Coll said. “The digital revolution has been hugely disruptive within the profession but it also made journalism more vital, accessible, and essential. We’re only beginning to learn what great journalism in new media will look like and how to teach, strengthen and inspire journalists in what is increasingly a globalized profession. The Journalism School has a chance across the next decade to extend its leadership as an institution with worldwide influence, a locus of deep and serious education, a source of experimentation, and a place where great journalism is not just taught but practiced.”

Like Nick Lemann, Coll joins several Columbia faculty members who have been regular contributors to The New Yorker magazine. In addition to the Pulitzers, which are administered by Columbia, his other journalism honors include a Livingston Award for outstanding foreign reporting in 1992; the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for coverage of the civil war in Sierra Leone in 2000; and a second Overseas Press Club Award for international magazine writing. He holds a BA in English and history from Occidental College, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Cum Laude, in 1980.

Columbia Journalism School is now completing an extended celebration of its centennial year and capping a decade of institutional development under outgoing Dean Nicholas Lemann. Over recent years, the school created a comprehensive new curriculum; launched new centers focused on digital journalism, media innovation and investigative reporting; and created a dual degree program in Computer Science and Journalism together with Columbia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. It has also added a master of arts program that provides journalists with the substantive grounding in other academic disciplines needed for intelligent coverage and commentary on the critical issues facing society locally and globally.

“We are grateful to Nick Lemann for his enduring contributions to Columbia,” Bollinger said. “But he would be the first to acknowledge that these exciting developments at the Journalism School cannot be seen as a legacy to be preserved, but as work that must be ongoing. I am confident that Steve Coll will do just that as dean.”

And here's the email Bollinger sent to Columbia Journalism School alumni:

Dear alumni of the Graduate School of Journalism:

It is no secret that my family's history in small town newspapers, combined with my long academic interest in the First Amendment, in the role of a free press in a democracy, and now in an inter-connected global community have led me, from the outset of my tenure at Columbia, to be deeply involved in supporting what I believe to be the finest school of journalism that there is. Always, the skilled reporters, editors, and producers educated on this campus have functioned as society's eyes and ears, our watchdogs and champions, delivering a public impact on our nation and the world far in excess of the size of the school.

With this in mind, and with every confidence that the decade ahead will be as innovative and transformational as the past one under Nick Lemann's leadership, I want to share with you the letter below I've sent to the university community announcing the selection of our new Dean.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am pleased to announce my appointment of Steve Coll, one of the most experienced and respected journalists of his generation, as the new Dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Our Journalism School, now completing an extended celebration of its centennial, is in the midst of a period of institutional innovation as significant as any since the school’s founding a century ago. Under the exemplary decade-long leadership of outgoing Dean Nicholas Lemann and his team, the School has launched centers focused on digital journalism, media innovation and investigative reporting, and created a comprehensive new curriculum, including a dual degree program in Computer Science and Journalism with our School of Engineering and Applied Science. It also has added an exceptional master of arts program that provides journalists with the kind of substantive grounding in academic knowledge that is needed for intelligent coverage and commentary on the critical issues facing our society. As a result Columbia has solidified our standing as having the premier school of journalism in the nation and, indeed, the world.

Nonetheless, Nick Lemann would be the first to acknowledge that these developments cannot be seen as a legacy to be preserved, but as work that must be ongoing. We all recognize that sweeping changes in digital technology and the global marketplace have created unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the news media that demand constant reflection on the mission and substance of a modern journalism education.

That Steve Coll is ideally suited for taking on this leadership challenge is made clear by more than the experience he and Nick happen to share as admired long-time writers for The New Yorker. In 1985, Steve joined the Washington Post as a general assignment feature writer for the Style section and over the next twenty years served as a foreign correspondent and senior editor, culminating in his successful tenure as managing editor from 1998 to 2004. A Pulitzer Prize winner in explanatory journalism for a series of Post articles on the Securities and Exchange Commission, which he reported with David Vise, Steve is the author of seven books including “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001,” for which he received a second Pulitzer in 2005 for general non-fiction. His latest book, “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power,” was published this past November, and won the Financial Times/Goldman Sachs prize for best business book of the year. Most recently Steve served for five years as president of The New America Foundation, a leading public policy institute in Washington that has supported a remarkable range of thinking on the issues facing our society, including the changes in journalism. It is experience that will serve him well here at Columbia, not only at the Journalism School but across a University community whose breadth of scholarship makes this a unique place to help shape the future of journalism.

I want to express my gratitude to the members of the search committee for their dedication of time and energy. While we are glad to have completed our work together, I will personally miss collaborating with such a collegial, insightful and diverse team dedicated to the School, the University and the profession.

For the present, please join me in thanking Nick Lemann for his enduring contributions over the past decade and in welcoming Steve Coll as the new Dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger